I never knew what I wanted to be when I grew up (still don’t!), so I took the LSATs, went to law school and became an attorney. I quickly realized I would have been a great lawyer if it wasn’t for all that darned fine print!
Cold calls. We hate makin’ em. We hate gettin’ em. And yet they make the world go round. Modern technology has enabled the rise of the robocall. “Spoofing,” or stealing a phone number to make you think you are receiving a call from a known entity, is becoming more and more prevalent. Add this to the actual human cold calls you receive and you realize that we are constantly bombarded with a slew of calls that are mostly irrelevant to our lives. Who needs another call regarding “Optimization of my SEO on Google” (whatever that means)? Of course, I’m sure that we could all use a new “interest free” credit card. My favorite (just last week)- “This call is in response to your inquiry regarding a prosthetic leg.” MY INQUIRY?! Getting a lot of these lately. MY inquiry into low cost loans, MY inquiry into Google SEO. I’m tired and I want to go to bed now.
I’ve divided cold calls (robo or human) into two categories. The first category is comprised of all the absolutely, irredeemably irrelevant ones (personified by the above examples). We will not concern ourselves with those. It is the second category that this article addresses. The calls in this category have at least a thread of relevancy. They can be divided into two sub-categories: business-to-consumer and business-to-business. An example of the first category would be, say, if you lived in a flood plain and received a call about flood insurance. Once again, this category is generally not our concern.
B2B-BUSINESS-TO BUSINESS COLD CALLS (Robo or human)
Let me start out by saying that what I am writing about can apply to anybody who cold calls for a relevant purpose, whether to a business or a private party. As a legal, compliance and audit recruiter for the financial services sector, I do both: cold call hiring managers in an attempt to bring in new or repeat business (B2B), and cold calling “prospects,” candidates who may be appropriate for a role I am trying to fill, or who may know someone that is (technically B2B but can also be considered a business-to-consumer call; this is just semantics, my friends).
In today’s world, there are many ways to connect: email, instant messaging, texting, “snail mail,” social media sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, you get the gist. In all of these myriad ways of communicating, the noble telephone stands alone. There is an intimacy and immediacy in a phone call that does not exist in any other medium. When you are engaging in a phone conversation, you are LIVE, baby. Unlike emailing or texting, there is very little time to respond to the other person. This requires a certain amount of “thinking on your feet.”
DIGRESSION ALERT! Technology has given us many wonderful advantages. If I have a question, no matter how obscure, I can go online and get some sort of answer. I can do all sorts of math with my phone calculator. I can text a friend about meeting for dinner and use GPS to locate the restaurant. But there are costs: we are losing the ability to improvise. I know someone who habitually turns on the GPS every time she gets into the car. Can she find her way to the store without it? I remember going food shopping with my mother and watching her add up all the items in her head. How many of us can do this today? I see people in coffee shops sitting at the same table and not talking. They are all on their phones, tapping away. Are they texting each other? Has it become easier and safer to hide behind the phone? Hey, I see lots of folks talking on phones. I go to parties and events; I know the art of conversation is far from dead. But I also find myself in conversations where the other person seems unable to focus on what I’m saying. Eyes moving everywhere. I see this mostly in younger people. Maybe I’m just boring, or is it because younger people have always shied away from us “old fogies” (SHARING ALERT! I’m 58). I’m simply asking a question out loud: Have we lost or diminished some of the tools that have always served us (sense of direction, math, eye contact)?
Which brings me back to the telephone. What’s that, you ask? Sorry, I mean “cellphone” (short for cellular telephone). When I started out, there was no LinkedIn (or I wasn’t aware of it yet). Personal computers were beginning to become popular and the phone was the primary way of communicating. I knew what the other person sounded like, but had no idea what they looked like. When I began using LinkedIn and saw the pictures of all the people I had known for years, it was like moving from a world of black-and-white into full color! Today, it’s sort of the reverse. We see what the other person looks like, but we may not know what they sound like, because we have so many other, safer communication options. I maintain that nothing can bring you closer, with a greater sense of immediacy and intimacy than a phone call. This can breed trust, which can blossom into a long-term business relationship.
Phone calls are time consuming, and you often get voicemail. I can reach exponentially more contacts/potential contacts with email and social media. If I only made calls, I would not be acting in the most efficient manner, and I would be hoarse and emotionally exhausted at the end of the day.
This is why it’s a good idea to put some thought into not just WHOM you will contact, but HOW. For example, I work with financial services institutions of all sizes. Small firms may need to hire every now and then, but the big guns are almost always hiring. I have learned to prioritize my cold calls (and “warm calls”-those calls you make after first contact). My contact list has hundreds, maybe thousands of companies, some with as few as 5-10 employees, others with over 100,000.
Once I have identified the proper in-house contact, I have to decide how to begin and maintain a relationship that could develop in a positive way. I use LinkedIn (or email, if I can get it) to reach out to the smaller firms, maybe once or twice a year, and call my contacts in the larger firms (because there is a much greater chance that they may need my help at any given moment), approximately every three months. Even if I have to leave a voicemail, I want that contact to hear my voice and know I made the effort to have a real-time conversation.
BUT I HATE COLD CALLING!
We can fix that. If you want to be good at something and get over the fear of doing it, you create a plan and practice it. Determine WHO you need to call. Perhaps make a list, so you can see the size of your task and break it down into manageable sessions. Then, figure out WHY you are going to call them. If it is a true cold call (first contact), you want to briefly explain who you are and how you might benefit them. If it’s a follow-up, gently remind them that you called earlier (and sent them some information, perhaps). If you were asked to call back in, say, three months, remind them that they asked you to call back.
I GET NERVOUS AND STUMBLE OVER MY WORDS!
Remember the “elevator pitch.” I talk about it all the time. I have an elevator pitch for each type of call. I began by writing my pitch (always starting with “May I have a moment?”) and striking out every superfluous word. Then I said it to myself over and over and over again, until I was a smooth-talkin’ professional. Now, I had to convince myself that I really wanted to make that call.
MIND-SET IS IMPORTANT
It’s natural to feel apprehensive when approaching strangers, whether in person or on the phone, especially if your last conversation wasn’t so positive (sometimes you catch someone at just the wrong time, or when they are in a terrible mood, for example). Cheer up, they probably don’t remember. Just before I pick up the phone, I give myself a little pep-talk “OK, Davey Boy, let’s do it!” I will smile. Power of persuasion, it’s amazing how just the simple act of smiling can make you feel positive. Some people in sales and marketing have a mirror in front of them so they can see themselves before and during the call.
CLICHE ALERT! Practice makes perfect
It never fails; once I make that first cold call, I’m ready to rock. The more calls I make, the more I relax and enjoy the ride (and the better I get). The people on the other end can sense it. When I start to tire, I take a break and turn my attention to another task, invigorating myself so I can make more calls throughout the day. I’M A COLD CALLING MACHINE!
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David L. Reitman, Esq.